Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Retro click-beep sound from InstaGamer - now an iPhone text alert tone

I just downloaded the new free iOS game InstaGamer and its retro click-beep snippet of a sound effect is just exactly what I’m looking for in a text alert tone. So I made it into a ring tone for the iPhone. Download it here, then load it into iTunes and sync your phone.

Backstory: I’ve long been in search of the perfect “text alert” tone for my iPhone. The ones that come with the iPhone all seem too long; to me, a good text alert tone lasts a half second or less. You potentially end up hearing it dozens to hundreds of times a day, so all you need is a slippy little audio cue, not a prolonged gag or music riff.

(Play the game too, it's fun.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Formatting and Typesetting your Book in MS Word

Format your page and text block

It starts with your page size. If you are self-publishing with a service like Lulu or CreateSpace, you select the size of your book, and this will give you a set of constraints (margins, etc.) to start with. Your page size and maximum margins will generally determine roughly how wide your text block can be.

Next, you want to find a matching set of values for your final font size, line height, and line width. The method I’m going to give you here is based on the fact that there is a set of ideal proportions between font size, line height, and line width, that give maximum readability and aesthetic appeal. See this article about golden ratio typography for more information.

  1. Take the width of your text block in inches and multiply by 72. This tells you how many “points” there are in one line of text.
  2. Take the square root of this number and divide by 1.618 (the golden ratio). This gives you an optimal font size, in points, for your main text.
  3. After rounding this font size to within half a point, multiply it by 1.618 again. This will give you your optimal line height in points.

You may need to reiterate a few times until you get a matching set of numbers that fit well on your page and do not need too much rounding.

Configure Word’s typesetting

You can actually get book-quality typesetting from Word if you just change a few options.

A couple of points about paragraph formatting:

  • Make sure your main text is set to “justified”, and not “flush left.” While it is currently better to set text flush-left on the web, books look better justified and are nearly always set that way.
  • Don’t have spaces between paragraphs in your main body text.
  • Paragraphs should have a first-line indent of the width of about 2 or 3 characters, but only where two or more paragraphs are joined together: the first paragraph of any group of paragraphs should have no first-line indent. (This could be a pain to manage; I tend to handle it by making all paragraphs indented by default, then going back and manually removing the indent from first paragraphs at some later stage in the editing.)

Make sure the following settings are enabled under the “Compatibility” options. To get to these options, click on the circular “Office Button” in the upper left corner, and then click Word Options at the very bottom of the menu. Then click Advanced, scroll down to the bottom of that section, and click the + next to Layout Options. On older versions, click the Tools menu, then Options (or EditPreferences on a Mac) then click the Compatibility tab.

  • Put a check next to “Do full justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows.” This allows justified text to contract as well as expand, making the automatic adjustments look a lot better.
  • “Don’t add extra space for raised/lowered characters.”
  • “Don’t expand character spaces on the line ending SHIFT+RETURN.” This ensures that lines you end with a soft return will still be properly justified.
  • “Suppress ‘Space Before’ after a hard page or column break.”

Configure Word’s hyphenation settings. On the toolbar, click the Page Layout tab, then Hyphenation drop-down button → Hyphenation Options. (On older versions, click Tools menu → LanguageHyphenation.)

  • Put a check next to “Automatically hyphenate document.”
  • Set “Hyphenation zone” to about half an inch.
  • Set “Limit consecutive hyphens” to 3.

Finally, enable ligatures. If your font is of good quality and has alternates for character combinations like fi and ffi, this will tell Word to use them automatically. This can only be done in MS Word 2010 or later.

  • Open the Font settings window. You can do this by selecting some text, right-clicking and selecting Font from the menu, but I recommend setting this up in whatever “style” you use for your body text (e.g., “Normal”): Home tab, right click the style, select Modifiy, then Format button → Font.
  • Click the Advanced tab, then next to the Ligatures option, select Standard Only.


These tips are compiled from many sources, and in many cases updated for clarity or accuracy with newer versions of Word.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

WriteMonkey: Tips and Tricks for Writers

I use WriteMonkey for almost all my writing. It’s the best Windows-based text editor I have found for writing prose (as opposed to programming code).

WriteMonkey is extremely Markdown-friendly — useful if, for example, like me you write all your blog posts in Markdown format.

Not all of WriteMonkey’s features are well-explained or documented, so I’m writing them up here.

Configure Markdown features

  • Markdown highlighting will not work unless you have Markdown set as your “Markup Standard” — set this in the Print & Export section of your Preferences screen.

  • Set the font size/weight/style used on headers: in the Preferences screen’s Colors & Fonts tab, click the button labeled ... in the upper right section (why they didn’t label it more clearly is beyond my understanding).

  • Make your exports look great. Download the template in this zip file and place it in WriteMonkey’s templates folder. It’s a version of this Markdown stylesheet with the following changes:

    • Removed padding: 0; margin: 0 rule for the ul and ol elements - this preserves indentation in multi-level lists.
    • The max-width was widened to look better on bigger screens.

Some undocumented features I found by accident

  • You can toggle whether WM will use normal quotes or “smart quotes” with CTRL+SHIFT+' (apostrophe).

  • Out of the box: type /now to insert the timestamp. You can format this timestamp in the Preferences screen.

Use WriteMonkey to write your book

WriteMonkey has a number of great features for writers:

  • It lets you set and monitor progress goals for your writing based on either word count or time or both.
  • Hit F5 to toggle between your main text and the “repository,” which works as kind of a scratch pad for the current file.
  • You can use the Jump screen to set navigate around your text’s headings, bookmarks, and todo items.

The upcoming version ( as of this writing), however, will have some great project management functionality. (See here for more info)

  • Folders will be treated as projects, and all the files within it will be part of the project. You’ll be able to switch quickly between text files in the same folder using a new Files view in the Jumps window.
  • You’ll be able to quickly merge all of a project’s files into a single text file.
  • You’ll be able to mark a file with “tags” using a comment line (starting with \\) at the top of the file, and filter the project file list by tags.
  • Special tags affect how the file is treated in the project window
    • Tagging a file with a color name will cause that file to show up with a colored star in the jump screen. Multple colors mean multiples stars, e.g. // red red red will add three red stars.
    • Adding the “draft” tag will move the file to the “repository section” — the file will be presented with lighter color and excluded from total word count.
    • Tag with a percentage, e.g. // 50% to add a grey progress bar
    • Tag with a date in order to add a deadline; the border of the file will turn red when it becomes past-due

Let us know of any additional tips in the comments!